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EU takes 11 member governments to court

(Wednesday, July 16, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- Associated Press: BRUSSELS, Belgium - The European Union filed lawsuits against 11 member governments Tuesday for maintaining moratoriums against approving biotech foods - bans that have prompted U.S. action at the World Trade Organization.

Under EU regulations, the countries should have already implemented laws on testing and licensing genetically modified organisms or GMOs. But the governments have refused and the European Commission, the 15-member EU's executive arm, filed suits at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. Continued noncompliance could lead to fines.

"I have been repeatedly inviting member states to live up to their obligations and I am disappointed that this has produced few results," EU Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstroem said in filing the lawsuits against France, Luxembourg, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Ireland, Greece, Spain, Austria and Finland.

The move is part of the EU's executive's push to end the moratorium and avoid a trade spat with Washington.

EU lawmakers this month voted in favor of new labeling rules for biotech foods designed to r

estarting the frozen approval process for biotech crops. "This legislation ... provides a solid answer to public concerns about the environmental and health effects of GMOs," Wallstroem said. "But our credibility will be severely undermined if we are not able to demonstrate that we can implement it."

About 20 approval requests are in the pipeline from companies such as Monsanto Co. and Bayer CropScience, a division of German drug and chemical giant Bayer AG, for genetically modified corn, cotton, canola and other plants. The applications are expected to reach the decision stage this autumn.

A U.S. trade official in Brussels welcomed the commission's moves.

The U.S. government has called the European moratorium an illegal trade barrier and charged the EU in May with breaking global trade rules. A formal request to convene an expert panel at the WTO is expected shortly. If the WTO rules against the EU, the 15-nation bloc would be forced to lift the moratorium or face U.S. trade sanctions.